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Assassin's Apprentice  - Robin Hobb Assassin's Apprentice: 4 stars
Royal Assassin: 5 stars
Assassin's Quest: 1 star

Assassin's Apprentice is an enjoyable fantasy book, and with regards to character development it's head and shoulders above most of the genre. However, none of the books in this trilogy work well as standalone, so I'd like to warn potential readers about what you're getting into.

The first book is quite good. It follows the protagonist, Fitz, as he grows up a bastard in the king's court--nothing new there, but Hobb is a master at drawing the readers in and getting them emotionally involved in the story, so it works really well. There isn't much assassination in any of the books (it's more traditional save-the-world epic fantasy), but there are a lot of good characters and relationships between them and enough conflict to keep things moving. Hobb knows a lot more about how people work than most authors, and I'm not just talking about most fantasy authors. Sure, it's slow-paced, but it's fascinating. And one thing I really liked about this first book was the boy-and-dog story; so much fantasy uses wolves that it was nice to see realistic dogs instead. (Of course, the wolves appear in the next book.) Assassin's Apprentice has a decent resolution, although so little is solved that it would be hard to stop here.

Then comes Royal Assassin, my favorite of the trilogy. It's a lot like the first book, taking place mostly at Buckkeep and following Fitz's life there, the struggle against invaders and the evil prince, etc. I liked it better because now Fitz is older--a teenager as opposed to the young boy in the first book--and able to take more independent action. A lot happens in this book, including battles, and if you were emotionally involved in the first book you're likely to be even more so here. The only downside is that the "resolution" resolves nothing, and the end is so depressing that you virtually have to move on to the third book to see how things turn out.

And then comes the bloated, tedious, trilogy-destroying horror that is Assassin's Quest, a 760-page book in which only the last 120 or so pages felt interesting or necessary to me. Fitz leaves Buckkeep (as you may have guessed from the title) and spends over 600 pages hiking... much of it alone, much of the rest accompanied by random throwaway characters who only just appeared in this book. No action is taken toward defeating the antagonists that have been around since the first book until the very last chapter or so of this one, and then the climax and resolution is the worst I've ever seen in any fantasy book--hasty, occurring in Fitz's absence, related to us in nothing more than some brief narrative summary. The one saving grace is that by the end of this slog, I cared so little about the story and the characters in it that the decidedly bittersweet ending didn't bother me a bit.

So I leave it up to the potential reader to decide whether you really want to invest your time and money in this trilogy. Hobb's characterization is excellent and her writing style above average, and the first two books are likely to completely draw you in. But then you have to read the hideous Assassin's Quest, and you're bound to wind up disappointed in the end. Given the end, I can't honestly say whether I'd recommend these books to anyone else, but I give 4 stars here because I believe that's what the first book deserves.